Cracker’s Kerosene Hat is one of those albums from my college years I remember going back to again and again. Like an old friend, it was there for me on long, lonely road trips spent trying to forget the boy who had introduced me to its smooth, addictive alt-country odes in the first place. Cracker, who produced the album, had such a big influence on me those days that I even waited behind stage for a few hours after their Bogart’s gig in Columbus, Ohio, to meet frontman/vocalist David Lowery, who shook my hand and signed a CD. And his sly guitarist, Johnny Hickman, gave me a hug. That was during the time I was freelancing for the Impact Weekly newspaper. Little did I know that a few years later in 2007, I’d be having a half-hour phone conversation with Lowery about one my Cracker’s best albums. After his Indianapolis show, I published this interview (see below) and concert review in Nuvo.
Written by Leslie I. Benson
Published November 14, 2007, Nuvo
Not too much has changed for Cracker since the days of their hit Kerosene Hat album (Virgin, 1993), when the alt-country/rock band released their biggest MTV and radio hit, “Low.” At least that’s what vocalist/guitarist/co-founder David Lowery says.
“We’re not afraid to play songs like we did in the beginning. We haven’t been fearful that our sound would become dated or irrelevant or [that] we needed to update ourselves,” Lowery says. “We haven’t really changed that much.”
For Cracker, who has lasted longer as a band than The Beatles ever did, its members are nearing 18 years of releasing records and touring together. They’ve evolved from making simple records with two guitars, a bass and drums to composing more elaborate, emotional albums since their debut in the early ’90s.
“A lot of things like The Golden Age [Virgin, 1996], which was a very elaborate record — a lot of people say that’s our best work — but in the end, it’s sort of like we’ve circled back to being like we were on the first couple records: just four guys in a room playing [music] together,” Lowery says. “[That] brought some of that complexity back with us to where I feel that Greenland, the last record, in a way represents all the phases we went through, everything from our explorative sort of psychedelic stuff to American roots stuff to punk rock and whatever our traditional alternative sound is. That record encompasses the whole journey that we’ve done. In a way, we’re not afraid of who we are. … We’re less afraid of who we are than we ever were before.”
Though “Low” made it big as the iconic Cracker single, Lowery says another track could’ve taken its place among the highest ranked songs put out by the band — somewhere along the lines of classics like “Euro-trash Girl,” “Get Off This” and “I Hate My Generation.”
“There’s a song on our 2002 record [Forever, Virgin/Back Porch] called ‘Guarded By Monkeys,’ and that’s sort of a strange title, but that should have been as big as ‘Low,’” Lowery says. “We put that record out on Virgin, and three weeks later, they pulled all the promotion money for that.”
Now on tour for Greenland, Lowery’s most autobiographical album to date, fans can once again see the band in action, which includes Cracker’s co-founder and lead guitarist, Johnny Hickman.
“Johnny’s a great guitar stylist,” Lowery says. “He’s like a … pan-rock stylist, and by that I mean he sort of absorbed like 30 years of different guitar playing — anything from punk rock stuff to indie rock stuff to country stuff to classic rock stuff, and [he] sort of spits it all back out in his own way. … It’s about the attitude that comes out and the way it comes across. And that’s a very powerful thing. I feel that’s what’s kept Cracker around for 17 years, and really made people follow us.”
Although Hickman and Lowery comprise the core of the group, keyboardist Kenny Margolis, bassist Sal Maida and drummer Frank Funaro play live with the duo and helped record albums such as Greenland.
“Frank’s played with everybody from Joey Ramone to The Dictators to The Del Lords to Dion [DiMucci], and he’s just one of those guys that grew up in New York/Long Island in the late ’70s/early ’80s. He was part of all the early punk rock and new wave,” Lowery says. “Sal Maida plays bass for us. He’s on the first Roxy Music record. … And he’s another one of these Long Island guys. Cracker has been sort of gravitating toward these [guys]. … Basically, Johnny and I are the core of the band, and we have these guys that we record with and play the live shows with, and for some reason that has ended up being all these New Yorkers.”
Though Cracker’s talent and work ethic hasn’t changed much, the music industry has definitely evolved. Rather than relying on calling cards to contact college radio stations and promote via word-of-mouth, Cracker, like many other modern bands, now promotes directly to fans through MySpace.com and other technologies. Lowery, however, claims the grass-roots efforts of networking in 2007 aren’t that different from 25 years ago when he first formed Camper Van Beethoven (Cracker’s precursor).
“When we started Camper Van Beethoven, basically, the major [record] labels would put out hair metal, R&B or new wave,” Lowery says, “but if you were doing something that didn’t fit into one of the categories, you essentially were left to put out records yourself. … [Now, there are] lots of small labels, but they tend to sell one type of music. So people are doing everything themselves and putting up their own Web pages, MySpace pages, Music Nation pages, Facebook pages and promoting directly to their fans.”
For Lowery, he’s not only a musician but a music fan as well. Ironically, you’ll find a familiar band in rotation on his iTunes nowadays: “Rogue Wave from Oakland. One of the guys is from [Bloomington, Ind.’s] Old Pike, or something like that,” he says. “And Sufjan Stevens.”
Ah, Indiana’s come a long way.
Cracker – Official Website: Click here
Press photo submitted to Nuvo